Workshop Helps Kids Find Language And Poetry Without Words

Apr 11, 2019

April is national poetry month and the O, Miami poetry festival wants to reach every resident of Dade County with a poem—including a group of South Florida students with severe disabilities.

WLRN went to one of the O, Miami-sponsored poetry workshops at the Brucie Ball Educational Center and has this audio postcard from the young poets:

"I'm hoping to give them an entryway into the genre and into self-expression and eventually self advocacy," says Donald Welch, who helped run the workshop for the kids at Brucie Ball.

Welch is based in New York where he's a poet and educator working with neurodiverse students. The O, Miami poetry festival brought him and his workshop partner—speech language pathologist Raquel Quinones—down to Miami as part of its month-long poetry celebration.

After an e e cummings reading, Raquel Quinones brings a tactile experience to a student.
Credit Sammy Mack / WLRN

"It's not like a fine arts workshop where we're sitting down and I'm saying, 'we're gonna take 15 minutes of free-writing, we're going to dig into some Frost,'" says Welch. "It wouldn't be really respectful to how this population of learners needs to interact with it."

Instead, Welch uses the meter and musicality of the poetry to connect with the young poets—tapping and singing through readings. To explore an E. E. Cummings poem with ocean imagery, Welch and Quinones delighted their students with bubbles and a small box of sand and shells.

"There is language without speech," explained Quinones. "Yes, they're not using words, but they're vocalizing, they're laughing, they're looking at me and there is joy in their eye."